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E3 2009: Microsoft Delivers Project Natal, The Beatles, Halo Reach, and Forza 3 at Media Briefing

Microsoft held its E3 2009 news briefing at 10:30 am Monday at the USC Galen Center on a three-screen stage lit with its trademark green circle design and delivered its much rumored hands-free controller, along with a top-notch lineup of 15-plus games, 10 of which are exclusive to the system. (See shots of the conference, including Beatles people here.)

Microsoft kicked off its 2-hour conference with Harmonix’s Rock Band The Beatles (due 9.09.09 on Xbox 360 and PS3). The developed showed the first-ever footage from Rock Band The Beatles from flash graphic-style cutscenes to a full band set up including three singers, guitarist, drummer, and basist, demoed by the Harmonix’s house band, and followed up with guest appearances by the last remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Carefully crafting the order and games for its conference to mix both casual and mainstream efforts with hardcore titles, Microsoft sent Pro skater Tony Hawk to the stage to demo Tony Hawk’s Ride replete with developer Robo Moto’s wireless skateboard controller (due fall 2009 on Xbox 360 and PS3).

Tony Hawk’s Ride was followed by in-game footage of Modern Warfare 2, which will enable gamers to ride and shoot enemies from snowmobiles (due 11.01.09 on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360), Final Fantasy XIII (with in-game footage including a summons spell calling “Odin” to fight alongside you; due spring 2010), and in-game footage from Donald Mustard’s new Shadow Complex, a sidescrolling action adventure game inspired by GI Joe and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (due summer 09).

Microsoft then demoed the free avatar racing game Joy Ride (winter 2009), a GC presentation of Crackdown 2 (which looks to feature big, nasty bosses who are much stronger than you), a CG video of Left4Dead2 (see L4D.com), an in-game video presentation of the exclusive Xbox 360 and PC game, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction (due fall 2009), and the not-so-surprising Turn 10 game, Forza 3–which Producer Dan Greenawalt said four times is “The definitive racing game of this era.”

Bungie Studios’ writer Joe Staten then introduced the first in-game footage of Halo ODST, which falls between Halo 1 and Halo 2 and puts gamers in the shoes of a non-Spartan military special ops team called Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST), who, when collecting various articles on his journey, initiates flashback story chapters to tell the story. Halo ODST introduces a few gadgets such as the returning Halo 1 pistol, a scanning visor, two sound suppressed weapons, and a rocket launcher. Halo ODST includes the co-op mode Firefight, and is due September 22 worldwide on Xbox 360. Staten also revealed Halo Reach, which was only shown in video and is due on fall 2010. Staten explained that when you pre-order Halo ODST, you’ll automatically be invited to participate in the Halo Reach beta.

Remedy finally showed Alan Wake, which still isn’t coming out this year (due spring 2010), but its very pretty, polished-looking adventure-horror game featuring tons of lighting effects issued from flashlights and flares.

Microsoft then announced a slew of partnerships to bolster its multimedia prowess. It announced it has partnered with Last.fm, an online music service that has a subscription of 30 million users worldwide, which will be free for all Gold Members. Following that it’s improved its Netflix service, eliminating the need to use the PC to browse for movies and now enables players to instantly connect to movies without wait times. Microsoft also announced a partnership with SkyTV, which will benefit folks in the UK and Ireland to be able to watch live TV shows from their Xbox 360s such as Premiere League Football.

For all those who thought the Zune as gone and dead, it’s not. Zune Video enables Xbox 360 users to see 1080p videos “without discs, delays or downloading, using what MS called its “Instant On 1080 HD streaming service.

Microsoft didn’t stop there. It then announced it’s partnered with Facebook and Twitter, both of which can be used directly on Xbox 360. FaceBook on Xbox 360 enables players to post pictures directly to their 360s; both services are due in fall 2009.

Finally, and perhaps biggest of all was the announcement of Project Natal, a demo driven by designer Kudo Tsunoda and endorsed on-stage by Stephen Spielberg and Lionhead Studios’ Peter Molyneux. Tsunoda showed how Microsoft is taking the Wii controller idea and attempting to take it to the next level of controller-less games by eliminating the controller all together. Project Natal enables consumers to use voice recognition, facial recognition, and motion sensing technology to grant gamers the ability to scroll iPhone-style through the dashboard and pick movies, launch games, or turn off or on their 360s with a gesture. Gamers can play 3D breakout-style games (MS called this game Ricochet) by using their hands to hit and their feet to kick in coming balls, as well as create painted objects on virtual canvases (Paint Party).

Paint Party brought the biggest laughs, however, as the crude painting looked more like Jackson Pollack style abstract expressionism, and the shadow game elephant that was demoed on screen, while fun, also brought on uncontrolled laughter from the audience (as it showed male and female demo-ers bent over to imitate an elephant eating). Tsunoda also showed how the Mii-like avatar that Microsoft introduced last year is now fully useable as a movement controlled avatar onscreen, who looks like and mimics your movements.

Microsoft concluded its conference by showing a Lionhead game temporarily called Milo, which uses the Project Natal technology and showed how users could interact with a crude artificial intelligence “boy” who recognizes the user, speaks to the user, “understands” the users voice textures, and hands users things on the screen. Conceptually, Project Natal is a brilliant idea that was easily the most impressive aspect of the entire Microsoft briefing. The hard part, however, will be executing the concept in a way that works seamlessly and believably. Mattrick added that the technology will work with all games that have been released in the past on Xbox 360 and all games in the future. Tsunoda said the techo demos are shipping now out to developers and publishers.

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Dan Rosensweig a Guitar Hero?

Activision Blizzard President Bobby Kotick allegedly is handing over the reigns of the Guitar Hero franchise to Quadrangle Group partner Dan Rosensweig, an announcement that could be made in days, says All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher, who cites courses close to the situation.dcp_dan_032209

It could be just me nitpicking here, but the article points to Rosensweig becoming “CEO and President of Activision Blizzard’s powerful Guitar Hero franchise.” Am I just parsing words here when I question the phrase “President of the Guitar Hero franchise?” It makes sense that Activision would start a music games division, and I could be missing information here but I didn’t see any announcement recently about a new Guitar Hero franchise or division.

“Rosensweig will run the hot gaming company’s division, which is located in Silicon Valley, the result of its purchase of Red Octane in 2006, ” Swisher continues. Ah, so he will run Red Octane.

Still, phrasing like this make me question how informed Swisher is. “Sources said Rosensweig will start his new job at Guitar Hero–which Activision could announce as early as tomorrow–in several weeks.” He’s going to work at “Guitar Hero?”

Again, I could have missed some news along the way, and there may be a new name for the division in Activsion called “Guitar Hero.” Please write in to inform me of my follies, but if I’m right, this phasing just makes Swisher sound goofy or ill-informed. (Or, again, if I’m wrong, I look goofy, which I’m in favor of, actually.)

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’80s Music Quiz

Yet another fantastic waste of time has appeared on Facebook. Thanks Facebook guys!80smusicquiz1

Do you know lyrics like “Animals strike curious poses,” and “Oh mother dear we’re not the fortunate ones?” (That’s Prince and Cyndi Lauper, respectively.)

Instead of playing Mafia Wars and constantly having my dumb-ass wrestler challenged by a moron just like me, I get to challenge my friends on ’80s lyrics! Brilliant!

Take this challenge and see how well you do. It’s a link to a safe app on Facebook, so don’t worry.

The ’80s Lyrics Challenge is a bar game, very much like You Don’t Know Jack, Scene It, or like the ones I played with the Next Generation gang at Knuckles Bar at the Hilton in Burlingame across from the old Imagine office in the late ’90s. Twenty questions appear sequentially, and with each question, five answers appear.  For each question, a timer initializes. As each second counts down starting at 15 seconds, your point total descends, too.  So, the faster you answer, the higher your point total,  the slower you answer, the lower your point total. Your points accumulate on a sidebar, and you can see your friends’ scores ascending the scales in real time. Like, for instance, Dan Amrich and Eugene Wang played while I did.

So yeah, thanks Facebook. You’re the new best way to waste my time. And that’s only because I’m not addicted to Twitter yet.

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